SAN DIEGO — A college soccer player from San Diego County is battling a rare form of Leukemia. Her best chance at beating the cancer all lied in a bone marrow transplant.
FOX 5 first brought its viewers this story a year ago during her family’s desperate search for a donor. Present day, the athlete is now giving back to others through a powerful message.
It’s match day as UC Irvine takes on UC San Diego, but it’s not an ordinary game. The star player is sidelined, for good reason. Encinitas teen, Jenika Davis is a D1 athlete for the UC Irvine Anteaters and was diagnosed last October with a rare form of blood cancer.
“Even though you want to be strong mentally, it’s OK to lean on other people,” Davis said to FOX 5.
Pair the diagnosis with four rounds of chemo, well, that would keep anyone on the bench, but for Davis, it wasn’t for long.
“I’m so thankful I can walk without a huge pole next to me, I’m so thankful I can wear clothes that I want to wear, I’m so thankful I can wear shoes.”
A year ago, it was business as usually for the freshman athlete, outings with friends, classes, and time on the field.
“She makes the whole team laugh, she brings us energy that is unmatched,” said Marissa Levine, Jenika’s teammate.
However, there was a sudden shift.
“The Jenika we had first met and known; it was just not her,” said Mirayah Villalpando, who is both Davis’ teammate and current roommate.
The changes were both slow and subtle.
“Her mood started to become more fatigued and tired and she wouldn’t really want to go to places,” said another roommate, Niko Hadzibabic.
“I was trying to put it off as, ‘I’m a first-year student, I’m a D1 athlete now, I need to keep up,'” said Davis. “But I couldn’t keep my eyes open in class, I wasn’t eating, I was bruising very easily.”
That’s when she went in for a blood test, to then learn she suffered from acute myeloid leukemia and needed a bone marrow transplant to keep her cancer from making a comeback.
“Well, you’re anxious the whole time. You hear about the phases of the process. Now, you have to find a donor,” said Davis’ head coach, Scott Juniper.
Davis’ team soon partnered with a national bone marrow donor program called Be the Match to help find her match.
“It’s hard to pinpoint one thing, where you think, ‘wow, this is wonderful…or ugh, this is a tragedy,'” Michael Davis, who is Jenika’s father, shared with FOX 5.
From Irvine to San Diego, spreading the word was vital in finding a genetically linked donor. While a lengthy process, it worked.
“For Jenika to find a match was amazing,” said Jenika’s dad.
Fast forward the clock to present day, Davis is the MVP of the game FOX 5 was invited to attend; one all about honoring her strength, all while encouraging people in the stands to see if they too can help pull off a miracle for someone else.
At the game, attendants had the opportunity to join the blood stem cell donor registry; a sign-up process that took FOX 5’s Sarah Alegre a mere three to five minutes.
A simple online registration and a 10-20 second cheek swab is all it takes to potentially help someone suffering with a life-threatening blood cancer or disease.
“You’re only contacted if you were to be a match with a patient which is really rare to come by. It’s about 1 out of 220 chances of that happening,” explained Shei-Lina Bundalian who works as a coordinator with Be the Match.